Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Whole Lot of Love

We had the most fantastic weekend! On Friday night, Gian Luca took over the kitchen and cooked “Mariottini Pizza”, a recipe that he created five years ago. It is thin crust pizza, topped with marinara sauce, black olives, oregano, artichokes, prosciutto and ricotta cheese (though he substituted the ricotta for mozzarella especially for me). After the first bite I was convinced: I am the luckiest girl in the world; I scored myself a man who can cook!

The pizza was so great that I knew I had to bake something to return the favor. I didn’t have much time (and the oven was making our apartment pretty hot) so I decided on quick scones.
I just finished reading A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (a fabulous book, by the way!) so I decided to use her recipe with a little variation. The result: a perfect taste of summer: blueberry and lemon scones. They were so tangy and sweet that we couldn’t stop eating them. Over the course of the weekend we ate almost the whole batch!
Yesterday I made a new variety, which to me, were even better than the first: chocolate and orange scones. These tiny triangles pack a whole lot of love.

Chocolate and Orange Scones

Chocolate and Orange Scones
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s recipe

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

3 tbsp sugar
zest from one medium orange
1 cup semi- sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup half and half, plus more for glazing
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like course meal. There should be no lumps of butter bigger than the size of a pea. Add the sugar, orange zest and chocolate chips. Mix to incorporate and coat the chips with flour.
Pour the half- and-half- into a small bowl. Add the egg and whisk together to incorporate the two. Pout the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine.
Using your hands, squeeze and press the dough into a rough mass. Move the dough onto a board or tabletop and knead it gently until it just comes together. Don’t over work the dough. Shape it into a large circle about 3 inches thick. Cut the circle into eight wedges.
Place the wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly brush the dough with a few tablespoons of half-and half. Bake for 10-14 minutes or until pale golden.
Yield: 8 medium scones.

Friday, June 26, 2009


As I said yesterday, marinara sauce can really add kick to any dish. Last night, after indulging in a bowl of plain marinara by the stove, I figured I better make something substantial for my husband, Gian Luca. We were lucky enough to have visited my family in NJ on Tuesday and Wednesday (we actually had an immigration interview for Gian Luca and it went amazingly well!). My mother can never let anyone leave the house without food so, as a result, we brought back an entire bag full of goodies: ten pounds of veal cutlets, a gallon of olive oil, two Ziplock bags of dried porcini mushrooms, a bag of salted olives and a generous chunk of grano padano cheese. My mom even slipped in dinner for Wednesday night, and when we came home, exhausted and hungry, we opened the plastic container full of grilled chicken and sauteed broccolini and devoured it.

Since we had all the ingredients, I decided to play around with veal. The final result was a new recipe which I aptly named “Vitello Tre Fungi”, or “Three Mushroom Veal”, which refers to the crimini, shitake, and porcini mushrooms in the dish. A ladle full of marinara and a few tablespoons of heavy cream made this dish magnificent.

Vitella Tre Funghi

Vitella Tre Funghi

4 veal cutlets (pounded thin)
1/4 cup flour (for dredging the veal)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
8 dried Porcini mushrooms( chopped)
8 Crimini mushrooms (chopped)
8 Shitake mushrooms ( chopped)
1 cup marinara sauce
4 tbsp heavy cream
4 tbsp Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Soak Porcini Mushrooms in 1/2 cup of warm water for 30 mins. Set aside, saving the water.

Dredge veal in a thin coat of flour. Heat oil in pan. Add veal and butter. Sautee until both sides of the veal are brown. Remove veal from pan. Add the mushrooms and water from the porcini into the pan. Sautee for five minutes, until mushrooms are tender and some liquid has reduced. Add veal back into the pan. Add marinara sauce, heavy cream and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for five minutes, stirring the sauce until all the liquids are incorporated.
Garnish with parsley and serve.

* if you don’t like veal this recipe would also work nicely with chicken breast.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Comfort Food

I currently work in a restaurant whose menu features comfort food. Though I’ve been working there for a month now, I never really thought about “comfort food” until today. It was a busy lunch, but amidst the rush, I stopped and looked around. The restaurant was packed with happy people eating BLTs and burgers topped with Swiss cheese and bacon. Some were even slurping up big spoonfuls of tomato soup in 90-degree weather. Apparently everyone needs comfort, even on a hot day.
I started thinking of what comforts me and one scene kept playing in my head. I imagined myself as a child, sitting at the table with my family on a Sunday afternoon, the tangy smell of tomatoes lingering in the air. By the time I stepped on the bus to go home, I knew that I had to make a large pot of Marinara sauce.
Though it is most commonly used to top off pasta dishes, the sauce can do so much more. A vegetarian stock of sorts, this slightly sweet, slightly acidic superstar instantly makes any dish better. It is a great base for minestrone or lentil soup, can spruce up a veal dish or add kick to baked cod. It is the staple of my kitchen, but sometimes, I like it just as is. In fact, I can’t think of anything more comforting than dipping a ladle into the still bubbling pot, scooping myself a heaping bowlful and eating it standing by the stove in my flip-flops on a hot day.

Marinara Sauce

1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 ( 32oz) cans diced tomatoes
5 leaves fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Sauté onions and garlic until golden. Add parsley and sauté for one more minute. Add tomatoes with all liquid in cans. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add basil for last ten minutes of cooking.

Marinara sauce will keep in the refrigerator for three days. The sauce can also be frozen for up to six months.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Onion Focaccia

Onion Focaccia Recipe
1 bag pizza dough ( I used Pilsbury, or you can go to your local pizzeria and ask for 1/2 lb of dough)
2 large Spanish Onions
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese (grated)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Stretch pizza dough on a greased cookie sheet, pressing the dough into the corners and sides of the pan. Let rest.

Cut onions into 1/4 inch slices. Add to hot olive oil and sautee over medium heat until onions become translucent. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Once caramelized, remove pan from heat and let onions cool.
Place onions and olive oil on pizza dough. Sprinkle with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
Cut into squares and let the food speak for itself!


Hello World!
I'm Antonietta and I'm here to share my stories and recipes with you. But first a little story to explain the name Cipolli.
Hope you like it!

So there I was, in Gian Luca’s tiny West Philadelphia apartment, trying to recreate one of my mother’s recipes. I wasn’t making anything fancy; my dish only had four simple ingredients, yet, I was hoping that somehow, I could make something that would impress him, something that would make him feel at home.
He arrived from Italy shortly beforehand and we had met only once, at a dinner with friends earlier that week. He had a carefree playfulness and genuine smile, yet an air of mystery. I wanted to learn more about him.
“How long are you staying?” I had asked that night.
“Six months.”
“Wow,” I said remembering the two times I had lived abroad. Moving was always exciting but after a while I longed for something familiar. “Do you think you’ll miss Italy?”
“I don’t think so,” he said, but I could tell by his distant gaze that there were things he already missed.
Later in the week, a mass email arrived. Gian Luca wanted to invite everyone to his apartment for lunch on Sunday. Then, later, another email, this time to a smaller list: he needed help.
On Sunday I drove to Philadelphia with folding chairs in my trunk and a giddy feeling in my stomach. Why had he asked me for help? I searched my thoughts trying to remember if I had told him that my family had a restaurant, or that cooking was a passion of mine. Or had he just known?

I decided to make onion focaccia, the unexpected crowd pleaser. My mother began making this dish in 1989 when she first opened her restaurant and introduced gourmet food to our small town in New Jersey.
At first, people were hesitant to try the thin crust topped with caramelized onions and golden pecorino cheese. “Onions on pizza?” I heard our first customers say. “Where’s the tomato sauce? Where’s the cheese?”
Even at eight years old I realized what it meant to be an adventurous eater and I was grateful that my mother had introduced us to unusual foods. I wanted to laugh at these customers and tell them how good it was.
My mother had a more subtle approach. She would cut a slice into small strips, hand out samples and let the food speak for itself.
Soon, people were lining up for a piping hot piece of “onion pizza” which my mother would serve Roman style—cut into large squares that were folded together and consumed like a sandwich.
In Rome, this type of pizza is called Pizza al Taglio, and it makes for a quick lunch or afternoon snack. When I spent a semester there during college I would often join my friends for a small slice between classes, trying a different topping each day. They were amazed by the crunchy texture of the dough, vastly different from the soggy American pizza they were used to. But to me, each bite brought me right back home, to the noisy kitchen of the restaurant where I spent most of my childhood.

There were four of us cooking that afternoon. Michelle was making bowtie pasta with smoked salmon and crème sauce, Enea was in charge of searing the steak, I was on appetizers and Gian Luca was bouncing between all of us, helping wherever he could and trying to figure out how he was going to fit twelve people in his studio apartment.
I was the only American in the room and yet, I was confident in my cooking abilities. I took over the tiny kitchen table, opening my bag of groceries and laying out all of the ingredients. I methodically sliced the onions without shedding a tear, then placed a small sheet pan on the tabletop and smeared it with the Crisco I had brought from home. Next I began stretching the dough over the pan, pressing it thin so that it would crisp while baking. As I worked, Gian Luca and Enea discussed, in rapid Italian, where they were going to put everyone.
Finally, it was decided that the kitchen table should be connected with Gian Luca’s desk and arranged on a diagonal cutting across the apartment. The folding chairs that I had brought, along with the three kitchen chairs would sit on one side of the table, the bed would act as a makeshift bench for the other side. The men started arranging the furniture.
My back was turned as they took the table with all of my ingredients into the other part of the room. My pan on the stove was already filled with golden olive oil, ready to bring out the sweetness in the onions. When I turned around to reach for them, the table was gone. I thought I would impress Gian Luca by asking for the onions in his native tongue. “Scusi, mi poi passare i cipolli?”
I heard them laugh and wondered if I had stumbled across another Italian double meaning. It seems that whenever I thought I was asking for a household item I would blurt out some dirty euphemism that made people smirk. “What?” I asked. “Why are you laughing?”
Gian Luca approached me with the cutting board full of onions. “Here are your cipoliiiiiii,” he said, dragging the final i sound like nails on a chalkboard.
I grabbed the cutting board and looked at Michelle for help.
“Its cipolle,” she said shooting him a dirty look. “Onions are feminine.”
I felt my face getting flushed. I should have studied Italian more in college, should have paid more attention to my mother all the times she tried to correct my pronunciation. But I was a hopeless case; no matter how hard I tried I could never remember what gender belonged to what words. Why are onions female? Why is an oven male? I just didn’t get it.
I dropped the onions in the hot oil and listened to them sizzle.
“Don’t worry,” Michelle said. “They mess up their English all the time.” I knew that this was true because I had spoken to them predominantly in English and heard their mistakes, but still, I wished to speak effortlessly, to pass for a real Italian, the kind that Gian Luca could fall for.
“Cipolli,” he called from the other room. I lowered the flame and stirred my onions. They were becoming translucent. “Cipolli,” he called again and I understood that this would be my new nickname. I ignored him.
“Dai,” he said walking into the kitchen. “Come on Cipolli, I am joking.” I stared down at the onions and continued to stir. “ I think your accent is cute.” My heart fluttered. By the time I had looked up from the pan he was already in the other room.
I turned off the heat and walked over to get my pizza dough. Enea and Gian Luca looked over at me.
“Cipolli, I like the name for you,” Enea said.
“Yes, you are really Cipolli,” Gian Luca agreed.
I smiled and took it as a good sign. Onions are feminine.
Back in the kitchen I poured the caramelized onions and olive oil on top of the dough then finished it with some grated pecorino. I popped the focaccia into the oven and helped Michelle with the dishes. Soon the sweet and salty smell of the focaccia filled the apartment. Our friends started arriving with wet coats and cold hands. They undressed a few layers, grabbed a glass of wine and inhaled deep breaths of the faintly familiar aroma.
The volume in the room got louder as more wine was being uncorked. People were talking rapidly in both English and Italian, laughing and signing along to the Italian music that was playing. Our friends took their seats around the table and, miraculously, everyone fit.
I pulled the focaccia out of the oven. The crust was golden, the onions had merged into the dough and the tiny specks of pecorino had browned in the heat. It looked exactly like my mom’s. I ran a knife through it, listening to the crackle of the crispy crust as I cut tiny strips out of the large pie. I placed it on a serving dish, brought it to the table, and let the food speak for itself.
I watched as Gian Luca took a bite. His eyes widened. He looked at me and smiled. I knew that without words, I had taken him home.